Achieve Photo Realistic Renders With Magic Bullet Looks
Popping your renders from your favourite 3d application straight into After Effects is always a good idea. Curves and level adjustments, glows, depth of field – all of this greatly enhances your renders, giving them a polished, final, moody and professional look. However, not so useful when aiming for photo-realism. You may find yourself in Cinema 4d trying to tweak and tune the settings to get things just right – fiddling with the lighting, shadows, global illumination, materials and more. It seems no matter what you try, you just can’t nail that photo-realistic look.
The problem is, when you render, it’s attempting to simulate what you would see if you were physically seeing the scene, in person, with your own naked eye. However, when looking at a scene through the eyes of a camera – the story changes. Now you’re dealing with depth of field, chromatic aberration, filter flares, fish-eye distortions, vignettes, diffraction, motion blur, and noise, just to name the big ones.
Luckily, Magic Bullet Looks from Red Giant software happens to have quite a few really great tools that can take your renders straight from your favorite application, and apply most of these effects to your renders, by digitally simulating a a real world camera. We’re going to take a look at some of these effects without going into too much scientific detail on the whys and hows physical cameras behave the way they do. Although I do recommend researching these terms so you can better understand why they are necessary.
The following scene was rendered in Cinema 4d, and exported to After Effects where I then applied Magic Bullet Looks, and a few other helpful effects. It’s a little jittery right now because I did not configure my Real Smart Motion Blur effect correctly just yet – but it gets the job done for now.
First let’s look at comparison images. The first one shows how the scene looks straight out of Cinema 4d. No effects have been added. The second is what happens after you apply Magic Bullet Looks, Real Smart Motion Blur, and some other effects.
You’ll notice that even with some basic textures and details, the 3D models used really aren’t anything special – and it really shows you why you should always, no matter what, tweak your renders within After Effects.
Let’s start looking at the interface of magic bullet looks and run through some of the effects we can apply to our render. The importance of these effects are in no particular order.
Exposure - View Wikipedia Article
Most of this will essentially be personal preference – your settings don’t need to be exact, necessarily. Choose something that doesn’t overly blow out your image, or make it too dark. I set this parameter to +0.80 stops.
Chromatic Aberration - View Wikipedia Article
This is a big one and it is almost always absolutely essential. However, it is very important to keep this effect very subtle. I find that somewhere between +0.300 and +0.500 works for me, but depending on your scene, it may be different for you. There are two types of chromatic aberration you want to be aware of – Transversal and Axial Chromatic Aberration. While they sound very complicated, the only difference between the two you’ll want to consider is Transversal contains Red and Cyan color distortions - and Axial contains a green and Magenta color distortion. Okay, so which one do I use? Personally, I’d recommend just using the Red/Cyan slider (Transversal) in most cases. If you have a close-up scene of an object and the background is out of focus, that’s when you can use the Green/Magenta slider (Axial). In this case, I’m joining Team Transversal.
Diffusion - View Wikipedia Article
This effect can really save your render from certain doom. Think of the photons from the sun bouncing off the metal armor of the ships, and scattering. It’s also very useful if you have a bright background with a dark foreground object. Essentially you want to primarily focus on the brightest areas of your render, and apply the diffusion effect to only those areas. You can also use the built-in glow effect within AE to get the same result – just turn up the radius of the glow, and keep it very subtle.
Vignette - View Wikipedia Article
This should be a very subtle effect that you apply to any scene. Don’t make it too obvious that there’s a vignette, unless you’re going for a certain style. For the purposes of a simple photo-realistic effect, keep it minimal. Because we’re essentially looking at a space scene, the effect will be barely noticeable – but I added one anyway.
Anamorphic Flares / Lens Flares / Filter Flares / Haze Flare - View Wikipedia Article
We are probably most familiar with this. Video Copilot’s Optical Flares is the best tool to use in After Effects for these purposes. The Anamorphic flare effect in Magic Bullet Looks offers you very little control, and doesn’t always produce the best result. It’s best used if you create a separate adjustment layer, and fade this effect on and off at a key spot in your animation. Adding lens flares to your renders is vital, and is probably one of the most important effects you could add. Just don’t over do it. The Haze Flare effect on the other hand, is pretty darn cool. In the example video I posted, I faded this effect in and out separately, when the camera pans down quickly to catch a top view of a Starship. Consider using it for cool things like that, without leaving the effect on constantly.
Edge Softness - Search Terms: Field Curvature / Astigmatism
More complicated words. By now you’re feeling like saying “Hey! This isn’t where I parked my car!” and walking away, but not to worry. I’ll spare you the explanation. You will want to keep the edge softness effect extremely subtle. You may also want to create a separate adjustment layer and add “CC Radial Blur” twice. One set to Straight Zoom, and the other set to rotate. Keep the “Amount” parameter on both of them to a decimal number, like 0.5. You’ll want to keep this effect extremely subtle as well. (And don’t forget the set your quality to max in Magic Bullet)
Lens Distortion - View Wikipedia Article
Be sure not to go wild here. I find that if you keep it subtle, it goes a very long way.
This really is the icing on the cake. Film grain will be a tremendous help to you, giving your scene a gritty, film-like, and most importantly, photo realistic look.
There are other things you may want to consider when striving for photo realism. While Magic Bullet Looks has you covered for most of it, there is some where it does not.
You’ll want to look into both of these, they are both extremely important. Just don’t render them in Cinema 4D or your 3d app of choice – it takes very long.